How I fell in love with Portugal’s wine country and other Portuguese tales [Vol 2. Douro]

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I had already shared how I was not expecting much on the wine front from Portugal before our visit. Shameful, I know. You may associate port wine with Porto but did you know that the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro region? In fact, if they are not from there, it’s not technically port wine. The process may slightly vary by the producer but in general, grapes are harvested and transported to Porto where they are stored for aging and eventually consumption. Also, there is a LOT more to this beautiful wine region than port wine, we tasted plenty of other varieties that were just absolutely wonderful.

For our trip, we decided to rent a car in order to travel through all of our stops:

Porto -> Douro -> Fatima -> Albufeira -> Lisboa

I 100% recommend renting a car if you can, as it not only gives you freedom from schedules but you can also explore at your own pace and change things up as you go if you so desire.

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For our stay in Douro we stayed at Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo, which you can see in this photo. When looking at where to stay in Douro, I saw plenty of gorgeous quintas in the region but I wanted to make sure we could stay in a quinta that offered wine tastings and actually had a vineyard. Our stay was short but wonderful. Due to time constraints, we actually did not leave the quinta once we got there and honestly have no regrets.

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We began our stay with a wonderful spread of ham and cheese and started tasting some of the wonderful selections from Quinta Nova right away. Their reserva was one of our favorites and definitely affordable considering the quality and taste, says the girl that is happy with a $10 bottle of wine at the liquor store, but you get it. 🙂

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My favorite part was walking through the vineyards, just me and Brian. There was not another soul in sight and the weather was absolutely perfect, not too hot or too cold. This region is truly a beauty and the landscape is breathtaking, unlike anything I had seen before. It’s also very calm, the kind of vibes you have to stop for and take a moment to really take it in because it’s a magical experience.

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Quinta Nova offers a delicious dinner with a chef’s menu and of course, dedicated wine pairings. Each course was a unique experience and everything was purely exquisite. Dinner wouldn’t have been completed without an excellent dessert and of course, port wine.

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The breakfast selection the next day was also delicious but the best part was enjoying it all with a morning view. I mean, how often do we allow ourselves to not only enjoy breakfast time but enjoy it with this kind of view. Good coffee, good food and knowing that the day can only get better. That’s what vacation should feel like.

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You can never have enough of something wonderful, right? I would have loved to stay longer in this region and explore further. If you have the time, definitely recommend you explore other quintas and even take a boat through the river. Even if you are tight for time and can’t stay for the night, Douro is not far from Porto and you can do a day trip to get a taste of the magic (it’s only a little over an hour drive).

Stay tuned for more of my Portugal series and feel free to message me if you are planning to visit and have any questions about my experiences. 🙂

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

Forget the Flowers, Here are Five Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Foodies

I don’t need to tell you Valentine’s Day is coming, a simple visit to your nearest pharmacy will suffice. Whether you are in a relationship or not, this holiday is capitalistically designed so that you are probably thinking of getting someone something, whether they are a significant other or your best friend.

On my end, I like to take Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to be creative and encourage you to gift beyond the classics which are expected. I’ve compiled five top choices below to spark some ideas.

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  1. Try The World Box ($198/year) – Have you ever been obsessed with something you have not even been able to try? That’s how I feel about Try The World. Still, I can tell it’s amazing and I can’t wait to try it. Try The World is basically the best option for when you want to travel the world and eat all the food, but you can’t afford a plane ticket. You get a box every two months and each box features gourmet foods from one new country. cast-iron-fondue-set
  2. Cast Iron Fondue Set ($39.95) – Melted cheese at home? Whenever you want it? Who doesn’t want that? There are a lot of fondue set options out there, it really depends on what you are really planning to do with it. If you are just looking for a one night thing, then don’t spend big. If you see yourself, however, using it for dinner parties or even chocolate fondue, there are some fancier options like this one from Sur La Table.
  3. cookie-mix-cornflake-chocolate-chip.df767b4b2e8a6d87e598bba426544134Baking Mix Tin – Cornflake Marshmallow-Chocolate-Chip Cookie from Milk Bar ($17) – This is baking made easy and delicious. Have you had anything from Milk Bar yet? You have to. This gift can be a good activity to do together or a nice surprise if you want to skip ahead and make them beforehand for quick enjoyment. You can look at more flavors here. The mix of marshmallows and cornflakes is a delicious combination of crunch and softness, highly recommend it! This is also a good option for a more low key gift.
  4. main_variation_Default_view_2_425x425Sur La Table Cast-Iron Oyster Pan ($39.95) – I’m not gonna lie, this one is tricky. I have never really cooked seafood on my own. Sure, I love eating it, cooking it is just not my specialty. Still, since Valentine’s Day merits something special, why not cook an aphrodisiac meal? Just looking at this image gets me excited… for food. Don’t ask me where to get the oysters, I have no clue, BUT here’s some wine to drink with them. clubW
  5. Club W ($ – Varies) – Speaking of wine! Here’s another aphrodisiac that doesn’t need much explanation. I don’t really think you can go wrong with wine. If you can, plan a wine tour or local wine tasting. If you can’t, there are a lot of wine clubs out there that will make great gifts. I’m currently trying out Club W and so far, so good!

¡Feliz Navidad!

  
Whether you are on top of a snowy mountain or basking in the Caribbean sun, I hope you are all happy and surrounded by loved ones. That’s what it’s all about, right? 

Focus on what you have today and cherish it. Take a moment to let those far away know you are thinking of them. Enjoy every second, even if you are in your pj’s watching tacky Christmas movies. There’s no place for hate today, let’s keep that living on. 

Happy Holidays!!

Can I make my own art?

I remember when buying “art” meant going to the poster sale at the student center in college. You had an array of choices, ranging from Bob Marley to Audrey Hepburn. I remember my friend had a poster with a baby monkey with sunglasses that was a total hit. I guess when you get older you can no longer get away with those choices and you are expected to buy real “art”. Whatever that means.

I moved into my new apartment in May and I’m still looking at blank walls in my bedroom. Nothing less to be expected from the girl that bought curtains over 2 years ago and never hung them up. Furniture is in, of course, but I haven’t done much decorating. Sure, my mini giraffe collection is up, but that’s obviously to be expected. The lack of decoration has been mostly due to lack of time, but I feel like it’s time to spark things up.

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First of all, I must warn you, I have very limited knowledge of what people call “art”. I go by my gut feeling of what I think looks nice and what makes me smile, that’s the kind of “art” I like. I first learned about Gustav Klimt through my art savvy roommate in college, although I didn’t realize who’s work I was really looking at until I saw “The Kiss” in Vienna.

So here I was, navigating Art.com because I was scared away from Amazon.com after I read a review that said “there is a thick slab of painted “goop” bordering the entire picture”. I found this lovely painting by Gustav Klimt, it made me happy and calm and it was just $37.98 for the print. Not bad, not bad at all. I’m prompted to answer if I want to frame it. Sure, why not, I’m being an adult and buying real “art” so let’s do it! Boom, it will be $229.99. I’m sorry, I don’t get how this “art” thing works. I just want my walls to look pretty. Do I need to get some finger painting and get creative? Maybe I need to start going to those wine and paint studios, that way I make my own art and drink wine too. Yup, that sounds like a plan.

Just like that, I’m back to square one. Empty walls, crushed “art” dreams, yet another crude realization that being an adult sucks and a thirst for wine that can at least be remedied soon. Cheers!

[California] Sausalito Sunsets & More Rosé

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During my recent trip to California I got to visit a lot of fun and interesting places, one of my favorite was the city of Sausalito. After spending the earlier part of the day at Muir Woods (more on that later), we were taken to this lovely waterfront town. I love the water and although I can appreciate the beauty of the mountains and forests, there’s nothing like being by the shore.

I immediately knew I wanted to spend more time exploring my surroundings, but knew we had a ferry to catch back to San Francisco. Relying on just online reviews and outside seating, we decided to have dinner at Salito’s.

Knowing that it was our last day in California, we were taking it all in. Everybody seemed happy and without a single care in the world. Except maybe the couple next to us, they were clearly on a first date and it was so fascinating to watch them both react to each other. No, I was not creeping.

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That, my friends, is Salito’s crab alfredo. Not bad at all, although I must say, their mussels and sauce was delicious!

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Note on those sunglasses, got them in California, love the reflection but totally lost them. They must be in some unpacked bag in my room right now, but that may not be the case. I’m not so concerned about the money (they were super cheap), I am saddened more by how well they photographed. Check us out on the shot below!

After dinner, we still had some time before the ferry departure. I saw people drinking by the water and I immediately knew where I needed to be. Turns out, this place called Bar Bocce allows you to eat and drink by the water in a very casual and comfortable setting. I only had drinks, but people around us were enjoying some very delicious pizzas. Note to self: return to this place with a blanket and a big appetite.

This is me at Bar Bocce’s backyard. That face says: “I love my wine, I love this place and yes, I know it sucks that I have to leave”. It’s like you can already see the inevitable sarcasm in my eyes, right?

Waiting for the ferry was not bad at all. Perks of waiting for the last ferry? You get to see the sunset as you leave Sausalito behind. You can also attempt, for the one hundredth time, to take the perfect picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

[California] Magic Grapes

 
First day back in New York after a week in California. My biological clock is a little off, my bank account is recovering, my phone is overloaded with photos and my mind has a million thoughts spinning around.

California is a beautiful state, I especially loved wine country. Shocker, right? Besides the obvious magic grapes that grow all around, there’s a little extra something to this place. Something so special, that now I’ve added owning a vineyard to my life goals. This might be tough, as I plan to retire in a beach house, but I’m sure I can work something out.

Looking at this photo again, it genuinely makes me happy. Beyond the simplicity of the fruit and the delightful contrast, these little grapes will one day, turn to be someonelse’s happiness. Maybe it’s a birthday toast at a BYOB restaurant or maybe it’s that special comfort you need after a rough day at work. Either way, these grapes only mark the start of a journey to who knows where and that, my friends, I think is pretty cool.

[Dinner] Grano Trattoria

I love Italian food, as any sane person should. Cheese is everything, no questions asked. When it was time to pick where to go for my first birthday dinner (yes, there is more than one, duh) I wanted to go somewhere Italian.

I’ve been dying to try Rosemary’s in the West Village, many friends have recommended it, but there were no reservations available when I checked. Thanks to the Open Table app I discovered another option for dinner, Grano Trattoria.

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Obviously, I started with the daily selection of cheese. These were particularly more special since I had been on some sort of cheese deprivation period, which basically means that I was eating normal amounts of cheese and no the ridiculous amounts that my heart desires.

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This is what got me. This risotto was DELICIOUS. It was the perfect balance of thick and creamy. I think by some, this risotto can be considered more on the cheesy/creamy side, but in my eyes that equals perfection.

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My boyfriend got the veal parmegiana, which looks messy but was actually pretty good. I’m not a big fan of veal, but he said it was good. He’s usually an easy chicken parm kind of guy, so I think that says a lot.

So that’s how my birthday celebrations began! If it was up to me, I would celebrate all month (which I kinda do in some way) but I tried to be normal and kept the celebrations down to a week. I always love to go out to dinner and try new places, but there’s always a nice extra touch when you’re going out for a special occasion. You don’t need to get me any presents, just feed me, seriously.

Wine, Cheese & Friends (Pasta, Shrimp & Hot Dogs too)

What do I love more than wine and cheese? Having wine and cheese with friends, old and new.

As you may or may not know (everyone’s busy, I get it) I have a new camera and of course, I’m eager to explore all the possibilities. It’s not as easy as it looks, I’ve yet to find that perfect light but I’m enjoying the journey.

Back to the wine and cheese.

I love the Holidays. Considering the crappy weather, it’s a season full of color and life that allows us to reconnect with people and gives us an excuse to put pretty things together. Seriously, think of all the things you do in preparation for the Holidays! I love the hustle, from getting the perfect gifts to finding the perfect outfit for your company’s Holiday party (which is tomorrow and I do not have).

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I may have a passion for capturing beautiful moments, but my friend and old coworker Citlalic has a passion for creating them. Her house is full of exquisite details that come together to build a lovely home. She has the perfect amount of patience to make sure that everything is perfect, which I love to capture!

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I must say I am very proud of my two cheese picks, Nettle Meadow Kunik and Aged Gouda from Murray Cheese Bar. Boy, were they good. My worst nightmare has a name and that is “lactose intolerant”.

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We also made pigs in a blanket! Not my best assembly, but that doesn’t affect the taste! Who knew this was so easy? Just cut little hot dogs and roll them with Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

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I look at this picture and I am hungry all over again. Citlalic cooked this delicious creamy shrimp Alfredo pasta with homemade sauce, props to her because I’m usually lazy and just buy the sauce at the store. Check out the recipe here.

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I look forward to the day that I have the capabilities to set up a table like that. I don’t even own a table cloth at the moment. I miss my mom’s kitchen where I could find napkins of every color and glasses for any occasion. One day, Cristina, one day.

Happy Holidays! 

An Unexpected Valentine’s Day

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Surprise bouquet at the office, delicious candlelit dinner at the fanciest restaurant with the finest bottle of wine and a night out dancing and strolling by the water…

That was not my Valentine’s Day.

I have been sick for the past week, but don’t worry I will not bore you (or disgust you) with the details.

Somehow, I was still able to have a pretty damn sweet Valentine’s Day. Boyfriend brought me flowers and some grape juice, which I enjoyed in a fancy wine glass while I ate a dairy-free and fairly unseasoned pasta on my freezing kitchen. I could not eat chocolates or any other sweets for that matter and all the dancing I did was from the kitchen to the sofa, where I killed that grape juice while we watched nothing else but the Valentine’s Day movie (permission to gag).

Yes, I was upset about the food choice and evident lack of wine and cheese. Yes, I wish we could have done the long weekend road trip we originally planned, but you know what?

Sh*t happens and you still are able to smile. I wasn’t able to stuff my face with complicated dishes, fancy cheese and gulps of wine? Eh, I saved the calories?

In all seriousness, I’m grateful I could even eat. I also had love, which is kind of the point of this so-called Holiday, so why was I complaining? Oh yeah, because I am obsessed with cheese.